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Eureka hit hard by priest's slaying

  • John Chiv, a member of St. Bernard Catholic Church for the past 10 years, prays Wednesday at the grave of the Rev. Eric Freed in Eureka. (Kent Porter / PD)

The night before he was bludgeoned to death, the Rev. Eric Freed told his congregation at St. Bernard Catholic Church that he soon would be leaving town for a couple days.

“I'm going to go away to a secret place. But don't worry, I'll be back,” Freed said, according to parishioner David Silverbrand.

The choir and pianist who normally play the recessional hymn were off that night — New Year's Eve — so Freed did something unusual as he exited: He walked out singing a hymn in Japanese, a language he learned while living in Japan.

Eureka Mourns Rev. Eric Freed

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“It was the strangest and most beautiful thing I've ever seen,” Silverbrand said. “That was the last time I saw him until the funeral.”

Just hours before Freed said goodbye to his congregation, the man now accused of killing him was creating a very different sort of scene in the small town of Redway, about an hour south of Eureka.

Gary Lee Bullock, 44, a longtime resident of the town, was hiding in bushes and yelling in a deranged manner, callers told sheriff's deputies. A couple who live across the street from where Bullock was staying said he pushed his way into their home, threatening them and claiming to be looking for his wife. He searched the small residence, including inside the microwave.

By early the next morning, the trajectories of the two men had intersected violently, police say. Freed, a man admired for his humor, intellectual curiosity and involvement in the community, was found dead in the church rectory at around 9 a.m.

Soon after, Bullock was named as the primary suspect, and he was arrested within hours.

The slaying of a beloved priest in his home has shocked people along the North Coast, including in Sonoma County where Freed spent time as a priest. St. Joseph Church in Cotati, where Freed worked and many still remember him, will hold a memorial Mass for him at 11 a.m., Feb. 1.

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